Gov. Pat McCrory’s signing Wednesday of a bill that would prohibit N.C. municipalities from becoming “sanctuary cities” may force Charlotte to remove language in a civil rights resolution that prohibits police from asking about immigration status.
House Bill 318, the Protect North Carolina Workers Act, could also affect Charlotte’s efforts to create a municipal ID. Under the new law, municipalities can create their own IDs, but they cannot be recognized by local governments. One exception is that police can use the ID if it’s the only way to identify someone.
Charlotte council members support a Charlotte-specific ID for undocumented immigrants, and Democratic mayoral candidate Jennifer Roberts also backs them. Republican Edwin Peacock opposes them.
The prospect of a Charlotte ID now appears unlikely.
In May, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department issued a directive that stated its officers will not enforce federal immigration law. A month later, the City Council unanimously passed a wide-ranging civil rights resolution that reinforced that order. The resolution included a prohibition in most cases of police asking people about their immigration status.
CMPD said it wants people to report crime or act as witnesses, and that fear of deportation would discourage people from coming forward. Former police chief Rodney Monroe said the city isn’t responsible for enforcing immigration law, just as its officers don’t investigate people who cheat on their federal income taxes.
During the course of an investigation, an officer might be told or learn a person is in the country illegally. CMPD’s position was to not report them to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The police said they would check a person’s immigration status if a suspect could be involved with terrorism or a criminal street gang.
Durham and Chapel Hill have similar policies.
CMPD spokesman Rob Tufano said the department didn’t know the law’s impact.
“We continue to assess the new legislation to determine what impact it may have locally,” he said.
City Attorney Bob Hagemann also said the city is researching the issue and declined to comment further.
McCrory, a Republican, defended the bill before signing it.
“Each individual arriving here in a legal manner, following our laws, in search of a better life is a blessing to our state and to our country. We want to continue that strength of our great country, but in doing so, we must follow the law and not tie the hands of the men and women behind me,” McCrory said when he signed the bill in Greensboro. “We’re going to enforce the law and help our law enforcement officers protect our citizens.”
The City Council could be forced to remove the language from its civil rights resolution that prohibited its officers from doing immigration checks. It doesn’t appear the new law will require officers to ask people for their immigration status, however.
The law could put police Chief Kerr Putney in a difficult position.
Putney may not order his officers to inquire about immigration status. But if an officer or group of officers is stopping people and asking about their immigration status, he could be powerless to stop them.
“This bill is unnecessary,” said Emilio Vicente with the Southeast Immigrant Right’s Network, who protested outside the governor’s mansion in Raleigh Thursday. “Once this bill goes into effect, it will further cement the idea that you can’t trust the police.”
Charlotte City Council member Kenny Smith, a Republican, voted for the civil rights resolution this summer because he said it had the support of CMPD. He said Thursday he supports the new law. He said municipalities shouldn’t stand in the way of federal law.